Yesterday the British press publicised the news that Tommy Robinson, the founder of the far-right group English Defense League, will be speaking at the prestigious Columbia University, New York City. Robinson will talk about “the fall of Europe – mass immigration”. He is presented to the students, faculty and staff of Columbia as “an important political figure in England and Europe”. Thus far the talk is planned to go ahead under the guise of “free speech.”
Just this weekend This weekend, on the 8th October, at an event in which Tommy Robison was present— organised by the Football Lad’s Association here in London— coins and beer cans, and chants of “scum scum scum” were hurled at counter-protests of anti-racist and anti-fascist groups who stood quietly alongside the police service. A number of attendees of the march have directed abuse at Diane Abbott MP, the first ever black woman to be elected to parliament and the Shadow Home Secretary, who expressed concern about the march.
After the Finsbury Park Mosque attack in London, in which after an Eid celebration a man drove a car into pedestrians leaving their local mosque while shouting “I’m going to kill Muslims”, killing one person and injuring ten, Robinson tweeted that “the mosque has created terrorists”.
Robinson does not represent British values. In September of last year, over 20,000 people marched in London under banners of “refugees are welcome here”. This September, an English Defence League march was cancelled after just six people turned up. The intellectual and political collaboration between the United States and United Kingdom is longstanding and achieved new focus after the election of Donald Trump for president. In January 2017, 100,000 joined the international Women’s March movement in London to stand up to hate and bigotry of all kinds. The people of the United Kingdom have spoken loud and clear about what the message they would like to convey to sisters and brothers in the USA is, and it is not Tommy Robinson’s message.
Finally, free speech is a fundamental value of our democracy and should be championed and protected. But the abuse of this concept to defend those who galvanise hate and violence is despicable and must be objected to from both sides of the Atlantic. John Stuart Mill, perhaps one of the names most synonymous with the advocacy of free speech, wrote: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”.
Tommy Robinson has solicited hate and violence on this side of the Atlantic. Let us work together to prevent him from harming more people on the shores opposite.